Despite the grand success of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, though perhaps partly because of it, Virginia's fabled Democracy seemed unusually fragmented in 1854. Its cohesion and discipline were undermined by a disorganized and momentarily stunned Whig opposition. Moreover, Tom Ritchie's death implied the collapse of the powerful central committee known as the Richmond Junto that he and close friends had dominated for years. These events suggested a waning of partisanship, further evidenced by constitutional reform and economic prosperity that blurred party lines in many states, not just in the Old Dominion. Patronage quarrels involving prominent Virginia Democrats highlighted the ineptness and venality of Pierce's administration. Finally, a major intrastate struggle followed the introduction by Senator Hunter of a homestead bill in the Senate, which one Richmond newspaper branded an "iniquity" for allegedly discriminating against older states and favoring railroads, immigrants, and newer states. With Hunter grasping at Calhoun's mantle, and striving simultaneously for transsectional statesmanship and preeminence within Virginia, a Richmond repudiation embarrassed him more than the eventual defeat of his bill. 1 Added to these difficulties, a new and ominous political movement, far more fearsome because of its allegedly nonpartisan character, threatened further to distract the Democracy and vitalize its traditional enemies.
Know-Nothingism, or the American movement as it was formally known, grew out of nativist responses to the influx of immigrants during the early 1850s. Know-Nothings not only intended to cleanse American institutions of alien influences, they were also a secret and fraternal organization. The ritual and constitution of the American party, drawn up at New York in June 1854, required members to vote only for native-born American Protestants. All initiates agreed to comply in social and political affairs with the will of the party majority. They also promised that when they became public officials, they would, if legally possible, pre-